THE BLOG
07/31/2013 06:29 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016

The 'Gay Best Friend' Effect: A Friendly Takedown of Benevolent Stereotyping

Marcel Thomas/FilmMagic

A very drunk girl once approached my best friend literally screaming, "You're gay! Let's be friends! Do you like Robyn?!" I'd pretend I didn't know how she could tell, but he was wearing a really deep V-neck and drinking a vodka cranberry, and we were at Industry. My best friend is gay, and Drunk Girl was just trying too hard to be friendly, but he still cringed.

So many girls shamelessly "just want a gay best friend," and can you blame them? Why shouldn't all ladies want a man who will just listen and go shopping but isn't a total betch like their girlfriends are can be? But even specifying "gay best friend" is problematic: Would you make a point to note that you were brunching with your "Jewish best friend" or express a deep desire to acquire a "Latino pal"?

The thing is that grouping all gay men into this "gay best friend" bundle counts as stereotyping, even though there are good intentions behind it. Just because you "just really love gay men" doesn't change the fact that said gay men feel a lot of pressure to be all the things that the "gay best friend" concept assumes them to be.

Part of the problem is that stereotyping gay men doesn't feel wrong in the way that other types of stereotyping hopefully do. Many of the things that gay men are associated with -- cleanliness, interior decorating, the uncanny ability to rock a mesh tank top -- are totally positive. But gay men come in a variety of shapes and sizes, with an even wider variety of talents and interests, and it's not fair to push your preconceived notions on someone who maybe doesn't want to listen to your problems or spend the day at the mall just because he is gay.

To be clear, the "gay best friend" sentiment isn't driven by malicious intent. Really, it's just the opposite. Yet just because something is "nice" doesn't mean it isn't wrong, and just because a man is gay doesn't mean he is automatically a show-tunes enthusiast.

My best friend actually is a show-tunes enthusiast, and he's a really amazing listener, and sometimes I have to firmly ask him to stop chatting me Robyn lyrics out of context. But he dislikes shopping and very definitely doesn't have a lisp, and the only time he has ever said "oh no you didn't, bitch" was when we got wine-drunk enough to sneak a 1.5-liter bottle through our college dorm window.

My best friend also doesn't appreciate when his well-meaning lady friends expect him to just want to tag along on trips to Forever 21, and it's not just because of the low-quality garments and questionable return policy. Assuming that he likes shopping just because he is gay is blatant stereotyping, a trend that is especially troublesome for the gay man who completely resists the "gay best friend" ideal but finds himself having to explain that seriously, no, he don't really care for Madonna.

Stereotypes are especially problematic when they're negative, but they also propagate ignorance even when they seem flattering at face value. It might seem "nice" to say, "all Asians are smart," but not all of "them" are, and that's still reductive.

We seem to understand stereotyping as obviously problematic when it comes to the majority of minorities, but it's just not clicking when it comes to gay men. (And while we're on the topic, not all lesbians spend their time woodworking, but that's another blog post.) Ultimately, it should not be socially acceptable to reduce the gay community to the perception that all men who like other men are but a slight variation of Jack McFarland.

That sounds ridiculous, I hope. But think about it: Spreading silly stereotypes like "gay men have attitude" allows for more offensive ones like "gay men are sexually promiscuous," and at the end of the day, there are a lot of gay men who would rather not be carelessly regarded as sassy sluts.

The easiest way to avoid the "gay best friend" effect is to realize that really, anytime you are using the word "they" to describe (or even think about) a group of people unspecified by factors other than race, gender, or sexuality, you are probably marginalizing "them." And to discuss the desire for a "gay best friend" is to assume that all gay men fit into one neat category, as freakishly tidy as "their" stereotypical apartments.

The point here is not to convince you that gay men are fat prudes who dress poorly and like ugly throw pillows (although that soul exists somewhere). Instead, it is to emphasize pluralism: Gay men are individuals who do not deserved to be forced into stereotypes generated by Queer Eye and Sex and the City.

Of course, there are larger issues when it comes to stereotyping and prejudice. There is plenty of hate speech, a disgusting number of hate crimes, and far too many people just teeming with so much irrational bigotry that they may as well shove a swastika up their ass. But I'm not trying to talk to those people. I'd rather shift the conversation for those who are accepting of the color wheel but maybe need help understanding that those colors have gradients.

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